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Doctor who helped CIA find Bin Laden jailed for 33 years by Pakistan for treason

The US had requested his release, saying he was fighting against al-Qa'ida, not Pakistan

By Andrew Buncombe

A Pakistani doctor who was recruited by the CIA to try to help locate Osama bin Laden and was subsequently accused of treason by the authorities in Islamabad has been jailed for 33 years.

Shakil Afridi, who set up a fake vaccination scheme in order to try to obtain a DNA sample from members of Bin Laden's family living in the compound in Abbottabad, was convicted in absentia under draconian laws in Peshawar. "Dr Shakil has been sentenced to 33 years imprisonment and a fine of 320,000 Pakistani rupees [£2,200]," Mohammad Nasir, a government official in Peshawar, told Reuters.

Mr Afridi, 48, a senior government doctor who worked in the north-west of Pakistan, is understood to have been recruited by the CIA when he was out of work and visited the US some time in 2009. After returning to Pakistan and providing information to Washington about sensitive tribal areas, he was subsequently called upon to try to help determine whether or not Bin Laden lived in the Abbottabad compound to which the CIA had been led.

The CIA tasked the doctor with setting up the fake vaccination programme. Reports suggest the scheme was not successful though others say that he was able to obtain a phone number for a resident of the compound which was then passed to the CIA and proved to be of vital importance.

Less than a month after the raid last May that killed Bin Laden Mr Afridi was detained by the authorities and accused of treason. The US repeatedly requested his release, saying any action he had undertaken had been to tackle al-Qa'ida and not to damage Pakistan.

Earlier this year, Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary, said Mr Afridi had been an essential part of the operation that traced and killed Bin Laden and denounced Pakistan's prosecution of the doctor. "For them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part," he said.

In February, the US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher introduced legislation that called for Mr Afridi to be granted American citizenship and said it was "shameful and unforgivable that our supposed allies" had charged him.

The conviction of Mr Afridi, tried under the British-era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) that still govern Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal region, will only deepen the continuing antagonism between the US and Pakistan.

According to the laws under which the doctor was tried, he can appeal within two months.

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